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Class 8A State Championship

Blue Darters fall short of state title

Big plays spur Venice past Apopka 35-7

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The Apopka Blue Darters finally encountered an offense they could not contain in the Class 8A state championship Saturday in Fort Lauderdale. The Venice Indians, taking advantage of big plays and a questionable touchdown late in the second quarter, amassed 414 yards of total offense to defeat the Blue Darters 35-7 in front of over 3,800 fans at the DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale.

Venice (14-1) seemed to keep Apopka (12-3) off-balance with an aggressive attack on offense, featuring senior quarterback Ryan Browne, who completed 18 of 21 pass attempts for 250 yards and four touchdowns.

The Indians took an early lead on its first drive after Browne threw a short pass to Omari Hayes, who broke one tackle and raced 60 yards for a touchdown giving Venice a 7-0 advantage.

The Blue Darters were able to tie the game with 6:13 left in the first quarter when senior Andre Phillips recovered a fumbled punt by the Indians on their own five-yard line. Two plays later, junior running back Zeldrick Roberts reached the end zone for Apopka on a two-yard touchdown run.

That evened the score at 7-7, but the Blue Darters would never get closer.

The Indians answered on their next possession with a 10-play, 80-yard drive that ended when Browne connected on his second touchdown pass - this from 20 yards.

The Indians led 14-7, and never looked back.

Then, with 2:21 left in the second quarter, Apopka senior quarterback Andrew McClain threw a pass that was blocked by Indian defensive end Damon Wilson, who appeared to juggle the ball in the Blue Darter end zone before being hit and losing possession. However, the official standing next to Wilson called the play a touchdown. Replays on the game simulcast appeared to show the pass was dropped, but with no replays in high school football, the touchdown stood and Venice took a 21-7 lead into halftime.

From there, things did not get better in the second half for Apopka.

Venice continued to play fast and aggressive and finished with 17 first downs and 414 total yards - including two more touchdown passes by Browne in the second half. The Blue Darters seemed stalled the entire game on offense, with only 115 total yards, and no third-down conversions (0-9).

Junior Keyondray Jones was the leading rusher for Apopka, with 67 yards on 14 carries.

This was the second appearance in a state championship game for Apopka in the last three years, still without a win. The Blue Darters last won a state championship in 2014.

Although not state champions, the Blue Darters are 32-9 since 2019 and 10-3 in the postseason. After starting the season 4-2, the Blue Darters ran off eight straight wins, including three straight playoff victories on the road.

Congratulations Blue Darters on another incredible season!

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